Vayechi By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

D'var Torah Vayechi

Vayechi (ויחי)
Torah: Genesis 47:28 – 50:26
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1 – 2:12

Gen. 47:1-16:  

“Then Joseph came and reported to Pharaoh, saying, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and all that is theirs, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in the region of Goshen. And, choosing a few of his brothers, he presented them to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh said to the brothers, “What is your occupation?”

They answered Pharaoh, “We are shepherds, as our fathers were, and we have come to Egypt, for there is no pasture for our flocks, because of the severe famine in the land of Canaan. Please let us stay in the region of Goshen.’

 Then Pharaoh said, “The land of Egypt is open before you: stay in the region of Goshen. And if you have any capable men among you, put them in charge of my livestock, as well.”

Joseph then brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh, and Jacob greeted Pharaoh….”


Scene: A Receiving Room in Pharaoh Seti I’s Palace, 19th Dynasty, 1291-1278 BCE. The Meeting between the Pharaoh and Jacob. Note that Seti uses the Royal “We” when speaking, since He represents all of Egypt, is Himself a Demigod, and that Native Egyptians did not think highly of Canaanites.

Pharaoh Seti I: Well, Jacob—is it? We believe you are the first Canaanite We have ever spoken to, though We have—um—killed many. Syrians, Hittites, other riffraff—We Egyptians are the glory and splendor of the Lands of the Sun, from the Great Western Sea to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the North. You are fortunate that We are making time from Our busy schedule to spend with you, only because We hold your son in high esteem, though he is but a Canaanite like yourself.

Jacob (bowing): I thank Your Majesty for this time.

Seti: Do not interrupt Us, Canaanite. There is something important We must add. In the Egyptian language, the word for “stranger” also means “barbarian.” You are our guest, but do not believe that you are Our equal. That can never happen. Your son is useful to us, but only because he is clever with numbers, wheat production, and grain distribution. Because of that, and that alone, you are welcome. He has saved Us from famine. We are grateful, and you are welcome.

Jacob: I understand. And I bless you, in the Name of the God of my ancestors, Isaac and Abraham.

Seti: Good. How many are the years of your life?

Jacob: The years of my journey upon this earth are one hundred and thirty. Few and hard have they been (quoted from Gen. 47: 9-10).

Seti: That is strange to hear, Canaanite. You are the chief of your clan; you appear to be wealthy, and you are rich in wives, children, and cattle. Although We Egyptians dislike shepherds, We understand your Canaanite ways. Among you people, these possessions denote wealth. How, therefore, can you claim that your life has been hard?

Jacob: I was the second-born, with my firstborn brother, Esau, being a mighty hunter. All I had was a weaker body and a strong mind. My mother helped me outsmart him, and I gained the birthright and my blind father’s blessing. But I had to run away from home at an early age, and escape to the home of Lavan, an evil uncle who hated and cheated me, until I learned to cheat him back. I had to do evil things, just to live.

Seti: That is bad: the gods punish evildoers. What did your God do to you, Canaanite?

Jacob: I sought for happiness for all of my life. I thought that true love would make my life perfect. I loved my dear Rachel, but God closed her womb, and opened Leah’s. Desperate, Rachel made me marry Bilhah, and Leah made me take Zilpah to wife. And so, I was caught up in a web of wives, concubines, and family jealousy, which affected all of my children.

Seti: We, too, married, but spent most of Our life as a soldier, under arms. We are no lover; we chose the sword and the bow, the chariot, the war-trumpet, and the glory and blood of conquest. Did you waste your time pursuing love, O Canaanite? Then, you’re a fool. Now, We, Seti I, We are practical, all the way. Now that We have peace, We have chosen to build: the Great Temple of Amun, and We have begun what is to be the most decorated temple of all time: the Temple of Osiris in Abydos. Yes, We will be known as a great Builder!

Jacob: I, too, wished for a great legacy: to be the greatest shepherd in all of Canaan. I struggled daily to wrest more and more sheep from my stingy father-in-law, Lavan, and, with God’s help, succeeded. He hated me, and I fled in the dead of night—only to have to deal with my vengeful brother Esau—but I wrestled with—an angel, I believe—and God stood by me, though I did not deserve it—I—I—(he begins to weep)

Seti (embarrassed): Well, well, Canaanite—Jacob—it’s good to speak with you. Now, I must go. Jacob? Jacob? Your Royal Audience with me is over. (claps hands; Jacob cries harder) Joseph! I say there—Milord Chamberlain! Cup-bearer! Go fetch Joseph—Ah, there you are! (Joseph enters)

Joseph (bowing): My liege.

Seti: See to your father, won’t you? (Seti leaves, mumbling, “The nerve! Breaking down in tears over nothing—can you imagine? Etc.)

Joseph (to Jacob, touching him on the arm): Hey, Pop? (Jacob looks up, smiles through his tears)

Jacob: Oh, Joey—my boy, my long-lost boy—how I’ve missed you—

Joseph: C’mon, Pop—let’s go have a cup of mead, waddaya say? Oh, and welcome to Egypt.

Jacob (as Joseph leads him out): Joseph? That king you work for—he’s a pretty tough customer, huh?

Joseph: Oh, yeah, Pop. You bet! But I can handle him. We’re gonna be OK, here, Pop—you’ll see.

Jacob: I hope so (Looks up to Heaven). Oh, God, I hope so.

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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